“How Could I Not”

Flash Fiction by Nancy Golden

Photo Credit: Image by Wendy Corniquet from Pixabay

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The sweat dripped off Mugwaneza’s forehead and into his eyes as he lugged the jerry can filled with water behind his back. His spindly arms used to shake when he first started his daily four-mile journey, but he had grown stronger this past year. Now, only in the last mile, did his arms start to tremble. He tried to force his tired legs to move faster so he would have time to study. The sun was already low in the sky, and if he didn’t reach his family’s home in time, it would be too dark to see his schoolbook.

He crushed the thought in the back of his mind that he might run into Nzobatinya today. It didn’t happen very often, but when it did, it was terrible. He couldn’t understand the hatred in the other boy’s expression. The sorrow from the genocide that happened before Mugwaneza was born never seemed to completely disappear from his mother’s eyes, but this boy didn’t even know him. Why did he hate him so much?

As if reading his thoughts, Nzobatinya emerged from a stand of brush and, putting down his water container, picked up a rock from the ground. Giving an angry yell, he hurled it at Mugwaneza, catching him completely off guard and causing him to drop his own container. The stone struck Mugwaneza’s forehead, and the beads of sweat now mingled with blood oozing from the gash. He watched in shock as the precious water leaked out of his jerry can. He touched his forehead with his hand and looked down to see the blood splayed across his fingers. Instinct took over, and he dived for the container and set it upright. A quick examination revealed that about a quarter of the water had leaked out. He was still a mile away from home and the sun was rapidly descending—no time to safely return to the watering hole before the evening predators emerged. He looked around and sighed. Nzobatinya was gone, and Mugwaneza’s family would have to be extra careful about rationing their water today.

The following day, Mugwaneza began his usual afternoon trek for water. He dreamed of going to university someday, and that dream occupied his thoughts as he trudged along. The watering hole was a few hundred yards away, and as he approached a particularly brushy spot on his route, a high-pitched scream abruptly brought him back to reality. Still carrying his empty jerry can, all of his senses went on high alert as he peered into the brush, trying to determine the source of the cry.

Creeping forward, Mugwaneza could see Nzobatinya on his hands and knees about ten yards away, frozen in fear. He followed the other boy’s gaze and could barely discern the shape of a lion crouching, its tawny coat blending in with the brush. The lion’s fierce stare was intent on Nzobatinya, its body taut, ready to pounce.

Mugwaneza started sweating profusely. The foul taste of fear soured his lips, and his stomach spasmed as his throat closed. He had heard his parents talking about the government reintroducing lions in Rwanda, but this was the first one he had encountered. He tried to swallow as he considered his next move. Fear was trying to freeze him. It was gaining ground. He reached up and touched the scab where his forehead was still healing from the stone Nzobatinya had thrown. He heard a low growl and watched as the lion, eyes riveted on Nzobatinya, started to slink forward.

The oxygen was sucked out of the air, and Mugwaneza couldn’t hear anything except the rushing wind in his ears. He grasped his jerry can tightly and leapt forward, running toward Nzobatinya and the lion, waving the container like a lunatic. He shouted as loudly as his lungs would permit and glared at the lion with a rage he had no idea he possessed.

The lion stopped and returned Mugwaneza’s glare. From a predator’s point of view, the two-legged creature’s actions were incomprehensible. Prey should either be frozen in fear or should run, including lesser predators who qualified as prey. The audacity of Mugwaneza’s efforts made the lion pause, but not for long. Turning away from his original target, the lion pinpointed his new victim and roared. He dashed forward and met Mugwaneza head-on—knocking him to the ground. The lion bared his monstrous incisors and extended his claws to savagely maul Mugwaneza’s helpless body, but was flung off-balance. Nzobatinya, forgotten when the lion attacked Mugwaneza, jumped onto the lion’s back, screaming and pounding the fierce predator with his small fists. The lion whipped his head around in a frenzy, throwing Nzobatinya off and biting at both boys, inflicting painful gashes with his sharp teeth. The boys continued their noisy attack. Mugwaneza used his jerry can to deflect the lethal teeth as much as possible, and Nzobatinya found a piece of deadwood on the ground and began beating the lion with it. Suddenly, the lion stepped back from the fray, shaking its great head. It gave one final roar and then turned, disappearing into the brush.

Mugwaneza fell back on the ground, exhausted. Their wounds were deep, but amazingly none were life-threatening. Both boys were covered with them, and the amount of blood seeping from their injuries was unsettling. Trying to calm his breathing, Mugwaneza stared up at the sky when as a blood-soaked hand came into view. He reached up and grasped the hand of Nzobatinya, who helped him to his feet. Nzobatinya didn’t release his grip. Instead, he stared at their intermingling blood with a somber fascination. Finally, he looked directly at Mugwaneza.

“Why did you save me?”

“How could I not?”

Nzobatinya stood a long time, not letting go. He suddenly pressed Mugwaneza’s bloodied hand to his own face. Tears began to mix with blood. Staggering into each other, they embraced. Tears mingled with tears and blood mingled with blood, falling to the ground as one.

Carrollton League of Writers One Year Anniversary Celebration

It all started with a post on Next Door and Carrollton Chatter – Anyone interested in joining a writers group? The response was huge! The next step: getting permission from the Carrollton Church of the Nazarene to use their fellowship hall. And then: Marshall’s Bar-B-Que allowing us to reserve their backroom the second Thursday of every month for guest speakers. We had our inaugural meeting on August 9, 2018. The video below chronicles our first year:

From our description:

Carrollton League of Writers exists to help writers in all genres and experience levels to improve their writing skills and to move towards publication if desired. We provide working writing sessions that include read and critique sessions and creative writing exercises. We also provide guest speakers to educate and inform from various facets of the writing industry, networking opportunities, and a chance to socialize and hang out with others who share the grand passion of writing.

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The first few meetings we learned about each other and started with a structure that has since evolved to meet the needs of our members. Some of us took on leadership roles in order to facilitate the different interests among our group. Alice heads up our informal table – where anything can happen from creative writing prompts to lively discussions. Tom has taken leadership of our critique group, making sure everyone has a Slack account and keeps the group informed of who is in the queue, as well as moderating each week.

Before breaking into groups, we start with an Info-Talk – as a way to learn something new every meeting. Our members have done a great job taking turns presenting them every week. Our topics have ranged from Backing Up Your Data to Secondary Character Development, Show Not Tell to Guns of the Old West, and everything in-between.

When we first started meeting, everyone was a little bit shy and nervous. It was scary not only meeting new people – but also sharing our writing with each other. Weeks became months, allowing trust to be built and friendships formed. One year later we are now a family and Thursdays are a time to get together to encourage and inspire one another. For many of us, it’s the highlight of our week and we can’t imagine it otherwise.

Early on we decided that improving our craft was important to our culture and to that end we have been blessed with a guest speaker each month when we meet at Marshall’s Barbecue. We owe a special thanks to Blake Kimzey of Writers Workshop Dallas for facilitating contact with so many amazing industry professionals that have been willing to speak to our group. Guest speakers have included:

Tex Thompson, Amber Royer, Blake Atwood, David Eric Tomlinson, Blake Kimzey, Kathleen Baldwin, Amber Helt, Ashley Mag Gabbert, Kathryn McClatchy, William Ledbetter, Becka Oliver, Andra Leigh Watkins, Michelle Schusterman, Keith Goodnight, Jan Morrill Vanek, Ann Rose, and Suzanne Frank.

Our Accomplishments over the last year have been many. In no particular order:

Three day writing retreat at Lake Texoma

Attended Roanoke writers conference

Halloween potluck costume party

NaNoWriMo Weekly Write-Ins at IHOP

Two Group Write-Ins: Phil and Nancy’s house and Scott’s house

Valentine’s Day party/poetry contest

Monthly Newsletter

Monthly member spotlights

Field trip to UTD to visit physics professor for science fiction writers

Facebook Group with 157 members

Twitter Account

Attended Writers in the Field

WORDfest table and panel participation

Ross got his MFA/ published articles

Critique blunders video

Hosted Summer Writers conference: speakers and literary agent pitches

First Annual Arianne “TEX” Thompson Flash Fiction Contest (Judge Amber Royer) Winners – Jennifer, Artis, Lauren and Tom

Christmas party

Logo Contest – Jackie O’Connor winner

Carrollton League of Writers T-shirts

Birthday celebrations

Board of Directors began in January

Bylaws are in process of being drafted

Attended Comic-con in Arlington

Numerous Info-talks

Featured in article in on Pastor Resources.com

Anthology (professionally edited) and will launch this Fall

Hosted our Anthology editor – Christi Martin

Attended Amber Royer’s book launch: Free Chocolate

Literary Agent Ann Rose requested chapters and manuscripts

WORDworks leadership workshop (2) – Attended by Nancy and Jennifer

WORD Historian – Jennifer Crippen

We also wanted to give back to our community, and during our first year we found several ways to do so:

Food pantry donations

Hosted Young Writers Workshop

Rwandan orphan educational fundraising – paid one trimester for five children to attend school

Participated in School Supply Drive

Phil – presented Asssault and Battery class at WORDfest

Solar panels/fans installation for Camp Tonkawa (Phil and Bud)

English Conversation Practice volunteers/Texas Party for class

Carrollton Complete Automotive Community Recognition Award

Wordfest Southwest – Phil, Nancy, Jennifer, Jackie, and John worked as volunteers

Most importantly, we have created a culture of compassion and caring for not only our group members, but for the people around us. Not just in regards to writing, we take a holistic approach, meeting any needs that we can. This fundamental value is integral to what it means to be a part of the Carrollton League of Writers.

We were very excited (and shocked) to receive the WORD Condike award at WORDfest 2019: For Their Extraordinary Contributions to the North Texas Literary Community

I THINK IT’S SAFE TO SAY – WE DID A LOT FOR OUR FIRST YEAR!!!

The criteria for being a founding member is to either have been with us from the beginning or nearly so, or someone having come in later during our inaugural year, but showing a dedication to our group through their participation and contributing to our success through their actions. I want to recognize our founding members by presenting them with a very special commemorative coin.

Team Spirit Recipients:

Scott Taylor

Ross Irvin

Trish Smallwood

Jessica Torres

Steve McCluer

Bessie Gregg

Peggy Wilson

Donna

Artis Hayes

Andrea Amosson

Above and Beyond Recipients:

John Lemond

Ed Wooten

Jackie O’Connor

Amy Garman

Phil Golden

Leadership Recipients:

Jennifer Crippen (Board Member/Associate Director)

Alice Wooten (Board Member/Secretary)

Tom Smallwood (Board Member/Treasurer)

Sandy Paty (Board Member/Social Event Coordinator)

Nancy Golden (Board Member/Director)

I also want to recognize some of our guest speakers. They have not only poured into Carrollton League of Writers, they are constantly giving of themselves to the writing community at large.

Tex Thompson

Kathleen Baldwin

Amber Royer

Bud Humble

And a special thanks to the folks at Carrollton Church of the Nazarene for allowing us to use their fellowship hall – they have blessed us beyond measure with their generosity.

It’s been a great year and I’m looking forward to another one as we travel this writing journey together – I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else than with the Carrolllton League of Writers!

Friends are the Family You Choose!

In Honor of Ron: A Life Well-Lived

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I just found out a dear friend went to be with Jesus a couple of weeks ago. Ron Mobley was an ole cowboy who loved Jesus and loved horses. I’ll never forget the times we spent with him at the Rock barn where he lived and worked. He taught me that praying over horses was the best way to start a training session. He showed me how to tie a rope halter knot and took me driving longhorns. He literally knew everything about ranch life and was one of the hardest working persons I’ve ever met. He loved the old time Country and Western music and hymns and you would always hear it playin’ down at the barn.

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He’s up there in heaven now with my colt Bo he broke for me and Eight Ball his canine partner for so many years who got called up a few years ago when Jesus needed a dog. I am typing this with tears in my eyes because doggone it, I’m sure going to miss him until we meet again.

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I haven’t seen Ron in person in years but every Christmas I would go shopping and make him a package from Santa Claus with “Do Not Open Until Christmas” on the box and mail it out to him. Ron always told me he waited until Christmas morning to open it, because he knew Santy was watching. I always looked forward to the phone call that I knew was coming and we would talk quite awhile, catching up. It’s going to be hard not doing that any more, but I know his body was getting pretty tired and now he has a perfect new one. Knowing Ron, he’s riding horses with Jesus right now.

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I read somewhere there are two simple principles for a life well-lived: 1) What you do in your present matters and 2) What you pass forward matters. Any one who knew Ron, knew he did both and did them wholeheartedly. He was always fully present in the time and love he gave and the wisdom and experiences he shared will continue to bless us in the years ahead.

I love you Ron, and I’m sure going to miss hearing your voice – those messages you used to leave saying you knew we weren’t home to answer because Phil and I were out honky tonkin’ and wonderin’ if you needed to come bail us out. How you called your answering machine your secretary. I loved hearing about your daughter and your grandkids, and how proud you were of your Mom and her ministry and those delicious pies she bakes. I loved our conversations about horses and training them. I’ll miss talking about the Bible and matters of faith with you, and how when I’d tell you I’d be praying for you, you would always say, “I’ll take all the prayers I can get.” We had some great times just talking on the phone over the years, and I find myself wishing I’d called you more often. I know we’ll ride together again someday – in the mean time – I’ll be holding you in my heart.

 

 

We Are Writers

In a sense, I felt like I lost one of my wheels today. As a bicyclist, I think this metaphor is particularly appropriate. I have been prepping for DFWCon for weeks (a writers conference billed as the largest one in Texas, with lots of wonderful industry professionals and fellow writers in attendance). I was looking forward to being a part of the conference, going to the classes, making new friends, and pitching my science fiction novel, Alien Neighbors. To my frustration, I developed a minor (although thank God, easily treatable) medical issue, but it was enough to stop me from attending. I think there is an important lesson here. There are NO career breaking moments. My writing career was not dependent on this conference. What it is dependent on, is that I stay the course. I must admit today was a bit rough, but I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue the journey. We are writers – that is what we do. disappointment-3151237_1920

Revisioners

I am learning what it truly means to be a writer. Perhaps we should be called “revisioners.” Writing excellence typically requires rewrites. While it may seem like a painful and tedious process – it can actually be fun. Seeing your story improve is like watching your child practice something and start to get really good at it. Remember, it’s all in your perspective. When you find yourself needing to rewrite something – view it as a wondrous opportunity, rather than a chore. You’ll be so glad to see the results when you are done!

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Seven Sayings of Jesus From the Cross

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When someone dies, their last words are typically formed around what they hold to be most important, those things most dear to them. The person is speaking from their heart regarding their greatest concerns. Even in dying, we can see that for Jesus, His greatest concern was for us, rather than the excruciating pain that He was bearing. His desire to articulate His thoughts from the cross must have brought shock waves of pain as He struggled to lift His torn body upward against the nails, to draw enough breath to speak. Scripture records that Jesus spoke seven times. Let’s examine more closely these words He deemed so important, He uttered them from the cross in the midst of His passion.

I would like to share some insights garnered from a little book by Russel Bradley Jones called Gold from Golgotha. Jones writes “Everything at Calvary is significant, but in a very special sense the Savior’s seven words, spoken from the heart of His vicarious suffering, interpret Him to mankind.”

  1. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

In the midst of great suffering, Jesus was thinking of others, not Himself. He had come for the lost and in that prayer He was asking His Father to give them a chance, instead of the condemnation they deserved. He asked God to allow them a chance to believe. Russel Jones points out that in the Greek original, “Then Jesus said” might be changed to “Then Jesus kept saying.” The verb is imperfect, indicating continuous action in past time. Jesus’ prayer was a continuous petition on our behalf in the midst of His suffering!

  1. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43

Jesus was faced with temptation just as He was in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane. One thief asked for physical release, goading Jesus by challenging Him to show His power and save them if He really was the Christ. The other thief appealed to Jesus to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He wasn’t asking for release from his cross, but from his sin. What is amazing is the choice before Jesus – the cessation of torture or the prize of His agony: totally unworthy sinners such as the self-confessed criminal hanging next to Him – and each one of us!

  1. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:26-27

Notice, Jesus said woman instead of mother. He assigned John as His substitute and in those words severed His earthly relationship with Mary, so she would be free to have the higher relationship of believer, with Jesus as her Savior. Heartbreaking as it must have been for both of them, it was necessary for Mary to lose her son in order to gain her salvation.

  1. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  – Matthew 27:46

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus suffered for our sin at the cross, in the God-forsaken depths of agony. Jesus’ soul cries out as He descends into hell for us – His Father is no longer there.

In this terrible time of forsakenness, we see the evidence of God’s wrath towards sin. Because Jesus was assuming the sin of the world, God’s attitude towards sin forced Him to turn His back on His beloved Son. This speaks to the incomprehensible sacrifice of both the Father and the Son – all for the sake of love.

  1. Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” – John 19:28

Jesus said “I am thirsty” after “all was now completed.” What He set out to do at the cross was complete. There was nothing more to be done. Jesus was also fulfilling prophecy and identifying Himself as the Messiah in those three simple words. In Psalm 69 His suffering is predicted, and that of His thirst when He would be offered vinegar to drink.

  1. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30

In the original Greek, “it is finished” may be translated as one word – “tetelestai” meaning “It was finished and as a result it is forever done.” There is nothing left to be done to complete the work that the Lord Jesus Christ perfected at the cross. “It” is the suffering of the full punishment of all guilt for all time. He paid the penalty due for sin with His perfect sacrifice. Sinners can now approach God through their faith in Jesus and because of His righteousness. A place in heaven is now possible because God’s divine justice has been satisfied. Nothing more is needed.

  1. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said his, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:36

The last words of Jesus show His death was voluntary, that He chose to give up His life for us. In His final words He is the Victorious Son, committing His all to His Father. This is the best example for us – a voluntary commitment of ourselves into the hands of God with all that we are and have.

We can’t understand everything that Christ said in His final hours, but there is much that we can and should study and reflect on. In Russel Jones’s words, “Golgotha is the place where the contrast between the Savior’s heart of grace and man’s heart of rebellion is most striking. Golgotha is the focal point of revelation and history and experience. There God did His best and man did his worst. There faith is justified, hope assured, and love conquers.”

Starting a Writing Group

I have had several folks ask me why I decided to take on such a complicated and time-consuming endeavor, with all of the work involved that forming a community writing group entails. A moment of insanity perhaps? Like the time I decided to coordinate a district science fair for my son’s charter school? Or start an ESL ministry at our church with four levels of classes? Actually, it is very satisfying to be operating in the areas that God has gifted me with, while helping others to be successful; it’s a “win-win” even if it’s exhausting at times.

To further my explanation, we have some tremendous writing groups in the DFW area of Texas, but none in Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas. I personally don’t want to drive twenty miles to Euless fighting traffic on a weekday evening every week, even though I am aware of a fantastic critique group that has met there for years. I thought perhaps there may be some like-minded writers in my area. I posted in our city’s community Facebook page and on Nextdoor to see if anyone was interested, and the response I received was HUGE! I created a Facebook group and now, in less than six weeks, we have had our inaugural meeting with twenty writers in attendance and have had forty members join our Facebook group so far!

The paradox for me is that in committing to this venture, I have actually reduced the time I have to write.  However, the payoffs have already been enormous. To see the excitement and enthusiasm our group is creating among our members is wonderful. To experience the generosity of Marshall’s Bar-B-Q and Carrollton Church of the Nazarene in providing free space for us to meet is gratifying. To reach out to established members of the writing industry in search of guest speakers and to receive an overwhelmingly positive response is marvelous.

So here we go – at the start of a grand adventure. I am learning as I go along, but we are blessed to belong to an industry that is known for giving back, so I know I am not going it alone. I am finding that starting a writing group is not easy, but it is also extremely satisfying to know that a real need is being filled:

Carrollton League of Writers exists to help writers in all genres and experience levels to improve their writing skills and to move towards publication if desired. We provide working writing sessions that include read and critique sessions and creative writing exercises. We also provide guest speakers to educate and inform from various facets of the writing industry, networking opportunities, and a chance to socialize and hang out with others who share the grand passion of writing.

If you are ever in the Carrollton area on a Thursday night – I hope you’ll join us. If you are thinking of starting a writing group in your own area – I hope you’ll go for it. It won’t be easy, but it will be well-worth it! Feel free to comment if you need help getting started. I am fairly new at this, but I can share my own experiences and perhaps help point you in the right direction.